SVAA Approved for Social Work CE Credits

Are you or someone you know in a helping profession who works with people in crisis?  Are you a social worker who wants a meaningful course approved for continuing education credit? Are you a first responder looking to enhance your skills? We are now enrolling for the August session of the Summit Victim Assistance Academy

Mickey Valdez.JPG

The Summit Victim Assistance Academy is a 40-hour comprehensive course and one of only two in the state approved by the National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP), an affiliate of the National Organization for Victim Assistance.

Skilled professionals cover topics including: Crisis and Trauma: Physiological and Psychological Effects; Individualized Crisis Intervention; Crime Scene Response; Trauma Therapy; Suicide Prevention and Response; and Unexpected Deaths: Homicide, Suicide, DUI, Sudden Death.

Participants can expect to graduate from the Academy with expert skills needed to provide crisis intervention to people affected by trauma.

The week-long course is $199, which includes materials and a certificate that can be used to apply for a provisional advocate credential from NACP. Housing is not included.  Classes are limited and pre-registration is required.

Summit Victim Assistance Academy was created by VAP Executive Director Leanne Graham, who wanted to standardize services provided by advocates, volunteers and interns at the agency.

For information and to register, please visit our website.


From the Director’s Desk



This month, there is an easy and fun way to help Victim Assistance Program.

On June 30, from 5 to 11 pm, Victim Assistance Program staff will be selling raffle tickets and serving beverages at the Cuyahoga Falls Downtown Fridays First Responders Appreciation Night on the Front Street mall.

Thanks to the generosity of the event sponsors, Western Reserve Hospital, Cascade Auto Group and the city of Cuyahoga Falls, Victim Assistance Program staff will be raising awareness of our services and accept donations while selling beer, wine and soda.

Our advocates and trauma therapist served 828 new clients in the past month.  That is in addition to 1457 clients who continue to receive service.

Every dollar we receive is precious.  The money helps us to maintain services and add more.  It also helps with special programs, like the annual KNAFF picnic in July that brings together in a fun setting police officers and children who have or are at risk to witness violence.  It helps to give family and friends of homicide victims a place to remember their loved ones around the holidays with our Angel Tree Ceremony, and it helps to keep our hotline going 24/7 so no matter when crisis strikes, we are there to help.

We invite you to celebrate first responders and the beginning of the July 4 weekend with us in downtown Cuyahoga Falls June 30. Buck Naked Band, winner of the 2016 Akron-Canton Hot List for Best Local Band, will perform, along with local favorite comedian Mike Conley.  For more information, check out the First Responders Appreciation Night on Facebook

Come down, say hello, have a drink, enter to win a customized T-shirt, and learn about Victim Assistance Program.

We can’t wait to see you!



Spotlight – Help is a Phone Call Away

Ebony Cebony_hotline_4.jpgoleman never knows who’s on the other end of the phone when she answers the Victim Assistance Program 24/7 hotline.

As a hotline advocate, Ebony hears from victims of violence who want information about protection orders, men and women who may have a friend or relative in crisis and  want to know how they can help, a crime victim concerned about a court appearance and anyone else who takes a first step by making the phone ring.

Sometimes the call is as simple as providing a phone number for another agency.  Sometimes she guides a domestic violence victim through the task of making a safety plan, asking questions in a way that the victim is empowered to make decisions.

Occasionally, she is a reassuring voice for a parent who is grieving a child.

“Moms who lose a child – those calls stand out the most,” Ebony said.

Ebony keeps her focus during calls by doodling on a legal pad she keeps nearby.  The intensity of the call can be seen in the shade and lines of the doodles.

Pencil points are broken on calls from moms who bury their children.

Ebony can hear the anguish in the mother’s voice when she talks about her son.  “He was not a bad kid,” Mom says. “He got caught up in a bad situation.”

“I can understand that,” Ebony replied, the frenzy of the circles on the paper contradicting her soothing voice.

Ebony has two kids, both preteens.  The motion of the pencil on the paper keeps her focused on the caller.  It keeps her thinking, “How can I help her?” instead of, “What would I do if it was one of mine?”

She listens to the woman talk about her son, blaming herself because she let him stay out later that night with his friends.  She tells the mom it wasn’t her fault.  When mom finally says goodbye, Ebony invites her to call back.

She needs a moment to herself after this call.

“You want to believe you’re protecting your kids,” Ebony said. “Then everything you learn about life and death gets turned upside down.  You’re not supposed to bury your kids.”

Out and About – Putting a Face to the Facts of Human Trafficking

cleveland clinic akron general logo.jpgNurses, doctors and first responders absorbed the facts of human trafficking during VAP Director of Community Engagement Jan Apisa’s presentation during a continuing education seminar at Cleveland Clinic Akron General.

When she was finished, trafficking survivor and founder of Survivor’s Ink, Jennifer Kempton, put a face to the information Jan gave them.

Jan regularly addresses medical professionals, first responders, schools and staff, neighborhood meetings, and other groups who want to know more about human trafficking or VAP’s core services.

Addressing the Cleveland Clinic Akron General audience, Jan revealed that a person may be lured into modern day slavery by someone he or she trusts, who grooms the victim and many times, introduces them to addictive drugs.

For Jennifer, it was her boyfriend. After several abusive relationships, Jennifer thought he was “the one.” At 16, she left home to be with him, she said.  Eventually, he talked her into using cocaine, then heroin, she said. When he stopped working, he convinced her to take a job as a stripper to pay the rent and feed their drug addiction. Eventually, he forced her into prostitution.

Jan explained that trafficking victims are often branded by their abusers as a sign of ownership with tattoos or by other means.

Jennifer was branded with four tattoos — three from her boyfriend and one from the gang to whom he sold her.

It isn’t unusual for a trafficking victim seeking medical care to arrive at a hospital with a much older boyfriend or girlfriend who does most of the talking for them, Jan said. She suggested separating the patient from their companion for a more candid conversation.

Jennifer’s abusers never left her side around strangers, she said.

Even when a trafficking victim can break free, they often still have feelings for their abuser, Jan said.

After a particularly cruel beating by her gang owners, Jennifer knew if she stayed any longer she was going to die, she said. She escaped her owners, but she didn’t call 911, or go directly to a hospital. Instead, Jennifer went to her boyfriend for help.  He told her to go back to the gang.  When she refused, saying she needed to go to a hospital, he told her she would have to go on her own.

Trafficking victims often show signs of physical or mental abuse, Jan said.  They are often afraid, nervous, depressed and may appear to be malnourished.  It is not uncommon for them to avoid eye contact or conversations. They often present as drug addicted.

Jennifer received the physical care from the emergency room staff, she said. But if they saw more than a drug addicted prostitute, if they suspected she might be a trafficking victim, they kept it to themselves, she said.  Jennifer had been taught well not to answer questions that weren’t asked.

“All they saw was a prostitute and a drug addict,” Jennifer said.

Jan told the medical professionals gathered in the Cleveland Clinic Akron General auditorium she looks differently at prostitution than she did before becoming involved in the anti-human trafficking project.

“I believed there was a clear distinction between prostitution and human trafficking,” Jan said. “I’ve learned that there really isn’t a difference. That those who choose to prostitute have, at some point in their life, experienced something that leads them into this lifestyle, whether it be child sex abuse, human trafficking or drug or other abuses.”

To invite Jan to your group, club or office, email

(Editor’s Note:  A few weeks after this presentation, Jennifer Kempton died.  More info at

Victim Assistance Program cleans up park where it helped after Ellet plane crash in 2015  

By Theresa Cottom
Beacon Journal staff writer

Gray clouds hung low over Davenport Park on Friday morning, threatening rain but never quite breaking. The park was quiet and empty of kids, while about a dozen adults roamed the grounds. Across the street at Summit Academy, classes were in full swing.

The calm scene was a stark contrast to the chaos that ensued there a year and a half prior.

“It was a complete circus down here,” said Samantha Clarke, a victim advocate with the Victim Assistance Program.

It’s been 1½ years since a commercial plane crashed in Ellet on Nov. 10, 2015, killing all nine of the people on board but miraculously sparing all surrounding residents and pets.

Displaced residents congregated in Davenport Park, where staff members from the Victim Assistance Program provided on-scene crisis counseling and assistance.

On Friday, 13 staff members returned to the park for the first time collectively since that day to clean up and shed light on that corner of Ellet’s dark recent history.

“It’s nice to come back here and do something positive,” said Mickey Valdez, the director of services for the Victim Assistance Program.

More than half of Victim Assistance Program’s staff members were at the park Friday cleaning up litter scattered around the area.

Valdez said the agency was looking for community service projects and reached out to Keep Akron Beautiful, a nonprofit city beautification project.

The organization sent back a slew of parks that needed attention, but Davenport stood out among the rest.

“We’re always looking for different ways we can give back,” Valdez said. “This was a way to kind of make such a terrible time a little bit better.”

As staff roamed the grounds, picking up pieces of assorted glass, wrappers and cans, some remembered standing in that field not so long ago helping pick up the pieces of newly disrupted lives.

The day of the crash

Clarke was just heading into work for her 4 p.m. shift when her manager called and told her a plane went down.

“I didn’t think she was serious,” Clarke said. “You hear the words ‘plane crash,’ that’s not really something that happens every day.”

She and other victim advocates arrived on the scene even before the Red Cross. The weather was typical for November, cold and pouring rain, while the scene was aglow.

“It was just a huge fireball between two apartment buildings,” Valdez recalled.

Emergency responders guided all displaced residents and any family members of victims to Davenport Park. Everyone who lived in the surrounding apartments — Clarke estimates about 25 total — walked away from the incident unscathed.

It’s a detail that stands out in Socorro Morgan’s mind the most.

“It was crazy that it happened, but everyone was safe,” said Morgan, one of the first victim advocates on site that day.

Still, people were drenched and confused standing in the rain.

Leanne Graham, the director of Victim Assistance Program, went across the street to Summit Academy to see if they’d let the victims in.

People at the school did one better, providing shelter and leftover food from a meeting while victim advocates scrambled to connect them with long-term resources.

“That’s how you make communities resilient,” Morgan said.

For the following two days, victim advocates were on scene day and night to provide assistance as needed.

The Victim Assistance Program is no longer involved with assisting any of the family members or victims.

They wanted to show their presence in the park, though, to remind the community that they haven’t disappeared.

“I know our advocates really worked hard that day to support families who were impacted,” said Erica Konecny, an administrative assistant with Victim Assistance Program. “I think that’s why we’re kind of able to bring it forward and still show support to the community to show we’re there whenever they need.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom .

(Published with permission of the Akron Beacon Journal)

VAP Welcomes New Board Members

We are excited to welcome six new members of the VAP Board of Directors. We appreciate that these men and women donate their time and talents to help make Victim Assistance Program even better.

We still have an opening on the Board for someone with a background in finance. If you are interested, please complete the application here.

Our new members are:

Dr. Patrick Palmieri, director of the traumatic stress center at Summa Health.

Justin Leonti, director of admissions at Larock Healthcare Academy.

Officer Jim Gilbride, lieutenant with the University of Akron Police Department.

Chip Clupper, HR administrator at the Summit County Department of Human Resources.

Vicki Allen, talent acquisition specialist, Signet Jewelers.

Dr. Paul Levy, Professor and Chair, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, University of Akron.

Over 100 attend NCVRW Luncheon April 5

The VAP National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Luncheon April 5 brought 120 people, including staff, to Portage Country Club.

VAP Board Vice-President Jennifer LeFleur opened the luncheon, with help from the Akron Police Department Color Guard, and introduced Board member Rev. Richard McCandless, who provided the invocation.

VAP Executive Director Leanne Graham introduced the keynote speaker, David Voth.

Mr. Voth,, executive director of Crime Victim Services in Allen and  Putnam counties, spoke of the need for Marsy’s Law, which would include crime victims’ rights in the Ohio Constitution. Members of the campaign for Marsy’s Law for Ohio are gathering the 305,591 signatures needed by July 5 to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the November Ballot, Mr. Voth said.

“We believe that victim rights must be meaningful with the same importance as defendants’ due process rights,” Mr. Voth said, adding that those rights would not usurp defendants’ rights. For example, victims should have the right to object to trial delays, but they couldn’t control the speed of hearings and decisions.

“Reducing victim trauma is a value,” Mr. Voth said. “There must be a balance that includes the victim’s voice, but not a veto.”

After Mr. Voth spoke, Director Graham announced Ohio Rep. Emilia Sykes as the recipient of the Rev. Dr. Robert Denton Outstanding Victim Service Award. Rep. Sykes was not able to attend the luncheon.

Victim Assistance Out and About

During March and April, our Director of Community Engagement, Jan Apisa, and Marketing Coordinator, Gina Mace, were in the community, talking about our mission and services.

March 10 – Bath Volunteers for Service – Jan – presentation on  VAP services

March 14 – Akron Ward 2 Watch Captains meeting – Jan – presentation on  VAP services

March 22 – Revere Community Care  — Jan – presentation on Human Trafficking

April 5 – NCVRW luncheon – informational display – Gina

April 6 – Healthy Senior Expo – informational table – Gina

Victim Assistance Program in the News

Victim Assistance Program was in the news several times in the past two months. The mentions included the following editorial during National Crime Victims Rights Week by Executive Director Leanne Graham, which appeared in the West Side Leader and the Hudson Hub Times.

Guest Column: Observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

Published: April 6, 2017 1:28 A.M
All this week (April 2-8) we join advocates across the nation to observe Natrional Crime Victims Rights Week.
This year’s theme is Strength, Resilience, Justice.

During this week, Victim Assistance Program honors crime victims and thanks the advocates who hold them up until they find their own strength and discover their “new normal.”

Our victim advocates staff our 24/7 hotline, at 330-376-0040. They also staff offices in the Akron Police Department, Summit County Clerk of Courts, and Barberton, Stow and Akron municipal courts, where they provide crisis intervention in person from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  We also have advocates with offices in the Akron Detective Bureau from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.

We celebrate the resiliency of the human spirit, as our advocates and trauma counselor walk beside victims on their journey from hardship to healing; from victim to survivor.

Our advocates assist clients in completing paperwork for protection orders and victim compensation. They accompany clients to ex parte, evidentiary, grand jury, and other court hearings.  They also respond to crime scenes at the request of law enforcement.  Our licensed counselor provides trauma therapy, free of charge, for ages 5 through adult.   

We will continue to advocate for justice for crime victims by assuring their rights under Ohio law are being upheld.

Our advocates make sure that crime victims who choose to exercise their rights receive information about the case and the offender, from investigation through arrest and conviction or acquittal, apply for allowed restitution so they may be made whole, and are heard before sentencing or parole.

During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and always, we are here for victims of crime, trauma and crisis.


Leanne Graham, Executive Director of Victim Assistance Program

Here are links to other stories that ran during March and April

March 5 – Akron Beacon Journal; – Mardi Gras Benefits Akron’s Victim Assistance Program

April 6– Akron Beacon Journal; – B1, Marsy’s Law Seeks to Give Crime Victims a Voice

April 10 – Akron Beacon Journal; – Good News section, Advocates receive national honors.

VAP Staffer Testified Before Ohio House Commmittee on Dating Violence Law

A bill that would allow dating violence victims to apply for protection orders against their aggressor passed the Ohio House Feb. 28.

It has been referred to the Senate’s Justice Committee

On Feb. 9, Victim Assistance Program Director of Services Mickey Valdez gave testimony on HB1 before the House Civil Justice Committee

Sponsored by Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) and Rep. Nathan H. Manning (R-North Ridgeville), HB 1 would include dating victims as protected partners under the State’s domestic violence civil protection order law.

Mickey told the committee dating violence victims are excluded from the current law because they don’t live with their aggressors.

“. . . dating violence affects victims of all ages including adolescents and college-age adults, a fact that is commonly overlooked and currently unaccounted for in legislation,” Mickey said.

The bill passed in the House Feb. 28.  It was referred to the Senate’s Justice Committee March 7.

You can read Mickey’s testimony here.